Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Ecologists describe and understand the abundance, distribution, and interactions of organisms. Evolutionary biology provides a unifying conceptual framework for all of biology, including the characteristics of organisms and biological diversity. Ecology and evolutionary biology are fundamental, broad, interrelated, and interdisciplinary areas of scientific inquiry. Animal behavior links the evolution and ecology of animals. Study in both areas is necessary for understanding the complex biological issues of today, and for solving some of the world’s most demanding problems. EBIO students apply the scientific method to issues in ecology and evolution, with an emphasis on critical evaluation of the literature; generating and testing hypotheses; designing and carrying out experiments to test predictions; and articulating, in oral or written form, the results of investigations.

In the light of the broad importance of ecology and evolution for understanding biology, the undergraduate EBIO degree emphasizes knowledge of:

  • The ecology of organisms, populations, and communities
  • The distribution and function of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems
  • Principles and patterns of evolution, including natural selection and the history of life on Earth
  • Comparative, systematic, evolutionary, and environmental aspects of botany, microbiology, and zoology
  • Adaptation of organisms to the physical and biotic environment
  • Animal behavior
  • Molecular evolution and population genetics
  • Developmental biology and the evolution of development
  • Conservation biology
  • The relevance of mathematics, chemistry, and physics to biology
  • The development of biological thought

EBIO majors include:

  • students who have strong and compelling interests in the natural world and who are interested in making a difference
  • students interested in pursuing advanced graduate degrees in science, especially biology
  • students intending to work in the areas of natural resources management, environmental consulting, environmental law, environmental science, science teaching and scientific journalism, among other professions
  • students with a passion to make a difference in the lives of others by improving their physical and mental health
  • students with an interest in studying biology, from the molecular to ecosystem levels
  • students fascinated with the complexity and diversity of nature

A bachelor of arts degree in EBIO provides excellent training, education, and experience for admission and success in graduate or medical school:

  • because the educational program emphasizes a broad-based training in the physical, chemical, and biological sciences
  • because ecology and evolution are subjects of central importance for understanding our place in nature
  • because “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (T. Dobzhansky)
  • because of the department’s strong commitment to providing excellent educational and research opportunities for students

Course code for this program is EBIO. 

Bachelor's Degree Program(s)

Bachelor's Degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Students in EBIO gain a well-rounded education in the sciences and mathematics, with an emphasis in ecology and evolutionary biology. In addition to the general College of Arts and Sciences requirements, students in EBIO must complete 15 credits selected from chemistry, physics, and mathematics, plus a statistics course and 38 hours of course work in EBIO. Up to 12 credit hours of courses taken in other departments may be counted toward the 38 credit hours required for the EBIO major. A list of acceptable courses can be obtained from the EBIO advisor. All required courses must be completed with a grade of C- or better. Students with scores of 4 or 5 on the AP biology test receive 8 hours of credit and are exempt from the general biology sequence (EBIO 1210 and 1220 General Biology 1 and 2, and EBIO 1230 and 1240 General Biology Lab 1 and 2). Students who score in the 66th percentile or higher on the CLEP test in biology receive 6 hours of credit and are exempt from EBIO 1210 and EBIO 1220. EBIO majors with transfer credit in biology from other institutions or advanced placement credits must consult with the EBIO undergraduate advisor. Transfer students must complete at least 12 upper-division (3000-level or above) EBIO courses on the Boulder campus.

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours   

  • Biology sequence (EBIO 1210 and 1220 General Biology 1 and 2, and EBIO 1230 and 1240 General Biology Lab 1 and 2)—8  
  • EBIO 2040 Principles of Ecology—4  
  • EBIO 2070 Genetics: Molecules to Populations—4  
  • EBIO 3080 Evolutionary Biology—4  
  • One EBIO laboratory or field course, 3000 level or above. Possible choices include:
    EBIO 3170/3175 Arctic and Alpine Ecology
    EBIO 3240 Animal Behavior
    EBIO 3400 Microbiology
    EBIO 3540 Functional Plant Biology
    EBIO 3630 Parasitology
    EBIO 3770 Animal Diversity: Vertebrates
    EBIO 3850 Animal Diversity: Invertebrates
    EBIO 4100 Mountain Research Station
    EBIO 4500 Plant Biodiversity and Evolution
    EBIO 4520 Plant Systematics
    EBIO 4510 Plant Anatomy and Development
    EBIO 4660 Insect Biology
    EBIO 4750 Ornithology
    EBIO 4760 Mammalogy
  • EBIO 4000-level or above (at least 6 credits).* Possible choices include:
    EBIO 4020 Stream Biology
    EBIO 4030 Limnology
    EBIO 4060 Landscape Biology
    EBIO 4140 Plant Ecology
    EBIO 4100, 4110, or 4120 Advanced Ecology
    EBIO 4160 Introduction to Biogeochemistry
    EBIO 4175 Ecosystem Management of Public Lands
    EBIO 4180 Ecological Perspectives on Global Change
    EBIO 4290 Molecular Systematics and Evolution
    EBIO 4350 Biological Field Studies
    EBIO 4410 Biometry
    EBIO 4570 Advanced Plant Physiology
    EBIO 4630 Field Techniques
    EBIO 4660 Insect Biology
    EBIO 4740 Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles
    EBIO 4750 Ornithology
    EBIO 4760 Mammalogy
    EBIO 4800 Critical Thinking
    EBIO 4840, 4870 Independent Study/Research  
  • EBIO electives to bring total in major to 38
    Statistics: MATH 2510, MATH 2520, IPHY 2800, PSYC 3101, or EBIO 4410 (of these, only EBIO 4410 counts toward the 38 hours of EBIO credit required for the major.)
    * These 6 hours must be taken in the EBIO department on the Boulder campus, which includes the Mountain Research Station and CU-approved study abroad programs. This can include critical thinking courses, and may include a maximum of 3 hours of independent study or independent research. 

Ancillary Course Work

Choose three classes from the following:

  • *CHEM 1113/1114 General Chemistry 1 and Lab—5
  • *CHEM 1133/1134 General Chemistry 2 and Lab—5
  • PHYS 1110 General Physics 1 (calculus-based)—4 
  • PHYS 2010 General Physics 1 (algebra-based)—5
  • *PHYS 1120/1140 General Physics 2  and Lab (calculus-based)—5 
  • PHYS 2020 General Physics 2 (algebra-based)—5
  • MATH 1300 Analytical Geometry and Calculus 1 (5 hrs), MATH 1310 Calculus, Statistics, and Modeling (5 hrs) or APPM 1350 Calculus 1 for Engineers (4 hrs)
  • MATH 2300 Mathematics for the Environment (5 hrs) or APPM 1360 Calculus 2 for Engineers (4 hrs)

*Students must take the lecture and lab for these courses

Minor Program

A minor is offered in ecology and evolutionary biology. Declaration of a minor is open to any student enrolled at CU-Boulder, regardless of college or school.

  • A total of 20 credit hours in EBIO with grades of C- or better.
  • A 2.000 GPA or higher for all course work attempted in EBIO.
  • 9 hours of upper-division credits in EBIO.
  • 6 hours of 4000-level credits in EBIO.
  • A minimum of 12 credit hours must be taken on the Boulder campus, including a minimum of 6 of the 9 upper-division credits. Mountain Research Station is considered the Boulder campus.
  • All courses must have an EBIO prefix.
  • EBIO 1030, 1040, 1050, 1300, 3010, 3940, and all independent study and independent research do not count toward the minor requirements.

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

  • EBIO 1210 General Biology 1—3
  • EBIO 1220 General Biology 2—3
  • EBIO 1230 General Biology Lab 1—1 
  • EBIO 1240 General Biology Lab 2—1
  • Complete 3 credit hours of lower- or upper-division EBIO courses—3 
  • Complete 3 credit hours of 3000-or 4000-level EBIO courses—3 
  • Complete 6 credit hours of 4000-level EBIO courses—6 
    Minimum total hours for the minor—20 

Concurrent Bachelor's/Master's Program

BA/MA in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

A combined BA and MA degree with thesis is offered for the highly motivated undergraduate major who is interested in completing a bachelor and master’s degree within five years. Applications for the BA/MA degree are considered on a competitive basis. Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors are eligible. Applicants must have an overall GPA of 3.00 or higher in the EBIO major and the support of a faculty research advisor. Applications are available from the EBIO graduate coordinator, and are due on October 15 and March 15. 

Candidates for this degree must complete all college core requirements by the end of the senior year. To be awarded BA and MA degrees, students must maintain a GPA of 3.00 or better and complete at least 144 credit hours. The degree requires 24 hours of graduate credit at the 5000-level or above and 4–6 hours of thesis credit. In addition to a thesis based on original research, the candidate is required to take a comprehensive examination in three subject areas by the end of the senior year. The final examination consists of a thesis defense to the thesis committee; it should be scheduled by the end of the fifth year. 

Students interested in this degree are encouraged to consult with the director of the program early in their undergraduate career. No financial support is available from the department for students enrolled in this program.

Graduate Degree Program(s)

Graduate Study in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology offers degree programs leading to the MA and PhD in a wide range of areas of biological inquiry, as generally described above in the description of the undergraduate program. Modern laboratory facilities for graduate study are in the Ramaley biology building. In addition, the department has strong ties with the University Museum, the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), the Institute of Behavioral Genetics (IBG), the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the Environmental Studies Program (ENVS), and the Departments of Integrative Physiology, Geology, Geography, Anthropology, and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. INSTAAR operates the Mountain Research Station, an alpine field laboratory 25 miles from campus. Graduate research support is available in the form of fellowships, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships. 

Graduate Admission. Admission information may be obtained from the departmental office or from the CU-Boulder web page. Completed applications are due in the departmental office by December 31 for consideration for fall semester admission. A complete application includes a statement of intent, letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and GRE scores. Applications for spring semester admission are not accepted. Students are required to have a bachelor’s degree in biology or an equivalent. Students admitted without a sufficient background in chemistry, physics, or mathematics are expected to make up those deficiencies during their first year of graduate study.

The MA I Program

A master’s degree with thesis is offered for students interested in continuing their training as professional biologists. For some students the MA I provides a basis for work on a PhD at the University of Colorado or at another institution, although the MA is not required for admission to the PhD program. Prospective students are urged to consult with faculty advisors before December 31 to see whether application for the MA I or PhD program is appropriate. Applications for the MA I program are considered on a competitive basis; the department only admits students for whom financial support is available. Thirty hours of course work are required for the degree, at least 24 of which must be at the 5000 level or above, including 4–6 hours of thesis credit. The thesis topic is presented to the thesis committee as a written research proposal. The MA I final examination consists of the thesis defense; it should be scheduled within two years for full-time students.

The MA II Program

A non-thesis master’s degree program is offered for students who are interested in obtaining a greater knowledge of ecology and evolutionary biology but who are not interested in degree work beyond the MA. This program is suitable for secondary school teachers and others whose career choices do not require a research thesis. A faculty sponsor is required before admission can be granted; applicants are encouraged to communicate with potential sponsors before December 31. Financial support is not guaranteed for MA II students. Thirty credit hours of course work are required for the degree, at least 24 of which must be at the 5000 level or above, including 4 hours of independent research leading to a paper to be presented to the faculty sponsor. A final oral exam may be required by the student’s MAII faculty advisory committee.

Doctoral Program

The PhD is a research degree, involving the production of a major piece of original research (the dissertation). Most recipients of the PhD from EBIO go on to teach and conduct research in a university setting, or to do research and pursue leadership roles in private or governmental institutions. Applicants are encouraged to communicate directly with potential thesis advisors and visit the department before completing the application. Applications are considered on a competitive basis and financial support in the form of fellowships or assistantships usually is made available. Students are expected to form an advisory committee of five faculty members (including one from outside EBIO) soon after beginning their studies. This committee aids the student in designing a research program and in making choices concerning course work. The PhD comprehensive exam is administered by the student’s dissertation committee and must be taken within the first five semesters of degree work. It consists of a written research proposal on the dissertation topic, a formal presentation summarizing the student’s research progress, and an oral examination centered on the student’s research. Upon completion of the dissertation, the student will be given a final examination administered by the dissertation committee.

A total of 30 hours of course work must be taken, although independent study credit may be included in this total. A total of 30 hours of PhD dissertation credits must also be taken. PhD students are required to teach at least one year, generally by serving as a departmental teaching assistant.